Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Family Science and Human Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Miriam R. Linver

Committee Member

Jennifer Brown Urban

Committee Member

Laura Lakusta


The transition to adolescence is characterized by the rapid development of many interacting social, emotional, and cognitive processes. Adolescent development is organized around developing successful peer relationships and peer interactions which can improve social standing, define group memberships, and develop a social identity. In the first manuscript, I identified cognitive complexity as an important underlying developmental concept to adolescent development and established a theoretical foundation. Cognitive complexity was explored through a dynamic systems approach which examined the interacting processes of development in addition to outcomes. In the second manuscript, secondary interviews (N = 24) were analyzed in a multi-stage process. I found that while youth moved toward greater integrative capacity, and more complex cognitive systems, changes were not necessarily linear and multiple trajectories were indicated. These trajectories were further explored in the final manuscript which triangulated empathy items in the survey sample (N = 102) with cognitive system classifications in the interview subsample (n = 21). Empathetic concern increased between waves in the survey sample, pointing to a positive trajectory in empathy development. Empathy was also related to the youth cognitive system classification trajectories but was clearest for those moving from complex classifications to simple classifications. Decreased scores in differentiation and integrative capacity, and in either affective empathy or empathetic concern predicted which youth would move from complex to simple classifications compared to youth who retained a complex classification. Future research is indicated in further exploring the interconnections of these concepts in adolescent populations.

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